How generations shape corporate travel – which one are you and how can you make change?

In offices and factories around the world it’s not unusual nowadays to find four generations of employees working side-by-side. Outstanding communications must be, therefore, a fundamental characteristic of any successful modern business. Last month, Amy Lynch (Baby Boomer) and Kim Lear (Millennial), of generational research firm BridgeWorks, addressed the GetThere Summit in London. Martin Ferguson reports…

At six years old I considered the loss of a tooth to be cause for great celebration. First of all, it was a sign that I was becoming a big boy. But secondly, and most importantly, it meant the paltry sum my parents called “pocket money” was given a much needed boost by the Tooth Fairy. Questioning whether a pint-sized pixie actually came into my bedroom during the night, lifted my pillow as I slept, and swapped one of my molars for moolah never entered my head. It was fast, easy money, and I was happy to play along.

The modern six-year-old is not quite as willing to be duped, in spite of the financial incentive. BridgeWorks’ Kim Lear, a 26-year-old researcher on the topic of generations, tells the story of a young boy in the U.S. who became suspicious of his parents’ elaborate yarns about the supernatural philanthropist. The disenchanted child informed them he was aware the Tooth Fairy was fictional and demanded the demeaning charades stop immediately.

“How does he know?” the disappointed mother asked the boy’s older sister. “Well mom, he Googled it,” was the reply

Though the young inquisitor will eventually realize he’d have been better off keeping his trap shut and pocketing the dough, the tale does demonstrate a crucial point about the younger generations.

“They demand honesty. They demand transparency. And they question everything,” said Lear. And unprecedented access to information is also the most potent weapon in their generational arsenal.

At this point, it’s worth recapping who the different generations are and what makes them distinct. If total travel policy compliance and adoption are the key goals for travel managers, they need to understand how to better control those whose instinct is to query every instruction.

The Traditionalists were born before 1946. They experienced the Great Depression; unemployment, hunger, and desperation were part of life. The harrowing experience of the Second World War meant many became patriotic and fiscally conservative. They also put their faith in institutions and believe in a top-down style of control and communication.

The Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, were a lucky bunch that lived through a period of huge, sustained economic growth. A gushing natural optimism stems from the fact these nippers never saw the bubble burst.  However, the same can’t be said for the next batch. Babies born between 1965 and 1981, known as Generation X, experienced the fallout from the decline of heavy industry, recessions and the explosion of media, a combination that produced a far more cynical, fiscally cautious generational bracket. 

And finally, the Millennials – born between 1982 and 1995. These dudes live their lives online. They are part of communities. They share, they influence and are influenced.

“If the boss asks a Traditionalist or a Baby Boomer to jump, their natural response is to ask “how high?” Generation X asks why.  The Millennial, on the other hand, screams “screw you!” This illustration is, of course, designed to make the audience laugh. But Lear’s point is crystal clear. Rather than obey the instruction, youngsters nowadays go online to find out who else is jumping, where and when they are jumping, and if anyone actually enjoys the act of jumping at all. 

Amy Lynch spends most of her time making organizations become more efficient by helping them engage effectively with each generation on the staff. Her advice to the gathered travel managers was simple and direct.

“Use simple language at all times, but when it comes to the travel program, use all the features you have available to you. The Millennials demand the bells and whistles of consumer apps. At the same time, never assume that Boomers don’t want to be on the cutting edge of technology.” A very good point; though online is second nature to the Millennial, the Baby Boomers can afford to buy all the gadgets!

“Your only option with Millennials is to be transparent, don’t be tempted to sugar coat your policy directives. Yes, they may resist and they will question the process. But you should listen. You may just find a way of making things more efficient.”

The over-arching message for travel managers is that if you are going to devise and deliver a successful policy and program, the ability to be generationally multi-lingual will be a pre-requisite for success. Otherwise, as was the case with the six-year-old Tooth Fairy denier, you could be missing fantastic opportunities.